On the morning of the 2nd July (2017), a man fishing at Kat Tsai Wan, off the west coast of Lamma Island, found a 2.5 meter long pink dolphin washed up on the beach. The man told Apple Daily that he could tell from his boat that the animal was dead.
The Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong (OPCFHK) response team visited the site and conducted a necropsy on the beach. The dolphin was an adult female and was carrying an unborn calf at full term.
The male calf measured 1.02 m in length, was also dead. The foundation said in a statement that no net entanglement or evidence of physical trauma was found on either carcasses, and both were severely decomposed.
The OPCFHK team said the mother dolphin’s organs and flesh indicated that she was very healthy prior to her death. The team has took organ, blubber, and tissue samples for further testing, inlcuding for microplastics.
Marine police on Saturday (7th May 2016) searching for a shark in Silvermine Bay after a beach-goer reported that he might have seen a shark outside the shark net. The life guards raised the red flag and a police launch and government flying service helicopter were dispatched. But witnesses interviewed by Apple Daily also suggested it may have swum more like a dolphin than a shark. Apple Daily posted a video on their site here. You can see the “shark” at the 1:00 minute mark. It’s definitely a dolphin.
History and nature appreciation don’t normally go hand in hand, but they should, because unless you know what used to live in Hong Kong waters, you don’t know what constitutes ‘good condition’ of the marine environment. So I love looking through old papers and spotting the ‘monsters’ of long ago.
And here is one the China Mail reported on its front page on 24th of June 1957:
MANTA RAY CAUGHT AT BIG WAVE
Chinese fisherman caught a 11-foot (3.35 m) Manta ray at Big Wave Bay yesterday afternoon. This was reported this morning by a Colony resident, Mr A S Dower. Mr Dower said there were two junks lying off the beach an it appeared that the Manta was caught from one of these. At about 7.15 p.m. , as the beach began to clear, the fisherman rowed a sampan to shore towing the ray behind. Then they beached the ray. Mr Dower said that when he left soon after it was still there. The catching of the ray was the climax of an exciting afternoon. The shark bell sounded four or five times. “It seemed to be dinging all afternoon”, one swimmer said. “I am not sure they were all sharks. I saw a fin once a good way out but I’m not sure it was a shark or a Manta.The Manta has a small fin – I noticed it when it was brought to shore,” he said. Big Wave Bay was crowded yesterday afternoon. Two rows of tents lined the beach and during the afternoon they were fully occupied. But the surf was flat. A porpoise was also reported to have been caught at Big Wave Bay last night.
So, 3.35 m wide Manta rays and porpoises at Big Wave Bay in 1957. We still have the finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides) in HK, but I have never heard of anyone seeing or catching a Manta ray in my living memory. Nur according to other sources villagers in eastern waters caught manta rays in the 1960’s using the oil from the liver to light lamps and the gills as medicine. Manta rays are oceanic species and not really costal dwellers, so I suspect they would only pass through HK much like great whales, tuna and many shark in the summer months. According to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department the species Manta birostris has been reported from HK waters and they can grow up to 8 m in width!
It’s my hope that someday some HK diver is going to post an amazing video online – like the one below from Bali (WikiCommons)- of Manta rays swimming through Hong Kong waters. And this is not an unrealistic hope either! The Thames river and estuary was delcared ‘biologically extinct’ in the 50’s but recovered following environmental protection legislation and efforts to rehabilitate it, and now it has dolphins, salmon, seals and even the occasional whale…right up to central London. And similar things have happened in other formerly polluted waterways near major cities. As long as we don’t cause species to go extinct (in the case of Mantas by eating too much of their gills and killing them as bycatch etc), there is always hope they will someday come back.
Since the Harbour Area Treatment Scheme (HATS) and extension of the sewerage programmes to cover 93% of the population, marine water quality in Hong Kong has been improving since 2002. Compliance with the Water Quality Objectives for Victoria Harbour improved from 50% in 2001 to 77% in 2014. The water quality of the Harbour will further improve after the full implementation of the HATS Stage 2A later this year. To further reduce marine refuse, the Working Group on Clean Shorelines conducted the Marine Refuse Study.
The report says that more than 95% of marine refuse originates from local sources. And 80% of this locally generated waste comes from land-based sources – especially from shoreline and recreational activities – the result of littering and poor awareness by members of the community.
Of the non-natural waste more than 70% was made upo of plastic and foam plastic items. Non-local refuse (identified via its simplified Chinese character labels) made up less than 5% of the marine refuse collected.
THE EPD is looking at a three-pronged strategy to address the local marine refuse problem:
- reducing overall waste generation at source
- reducing the amount of refuse entering the marine environment
- removing the marine refuse.
The five key measures devised to implement the strategy are:
- publicity campaigns and education activities
- support measures
- facilities to reduce refuse entering the marine environment
- stepped-up efforts to remove marine refuse
- engaging the public to report marine littering and refuse problemsThe report also shows that the prevailing wind direction has a marked effect on refuse accumulation, particularly in the Tuen Mun, Tsuen Wan, Southern and Islands Districts. It identifies 27 priority sites prone to refuse accumulation where cleaning frequency will be increased.
The EPD will also launch a monthly Shorelines Cleanup Day with schools and community groups as co-organisers.
(The full report is available at www.epd.gov.hk/epd/clean_shorelines)
While I have no doubt that much of the plastic trash on Hong Kong’s beaches and in the sea is generated locally especially during big beach events like Mid-Autumn Festival and Tuen Ng (Dragon Boat Festival) – I don’t remember it ever being as bad as it is nowadays. I grew up playing on Hong Kong beaches and actually had fun building huts out of some of the trash like driftwood, lost buoys and discarded wooden palettes. But as I remember it there was a lot of styrofoam trash (ice boxes and luch boxes and drink cups) and also plastic. But a lot of progress was made educating people not to discard their trash in country parks or in the sea with posters and TV ads. Then just as I thought it was getting better it startied getting worse. Yes, there has been an increase in Hong Kong’s population from 5.5 million when I was a child to 7 million now, but I don’t think thats to blame – the culture in Hong Kong has changed and people to guard and protect the environment much more now.
But mainlad China has changed enornously in the last 30 years starting with the economic reforms and special economic zone in Shenzhen in 1982 (or thereabouts). Now mainland China has all the same plastic packaged consumer goods and convenience foods and bottled drinks etc as Hong Kong. That has definitely changed. But the attitude to the environment is much slower to change. Big factories and local governments are being blamed for single-point pollution problems (quite rightly), but an awareness of the effects of individual actions and habits on the environment is not developed yet. So while HK has several marine-themed environmental programs and education campaigns (like Plastic Free Seas and The Hong Kong Shark Foundation etc) and volunteer-run beach clean-ups are quite common, I doubt that is the case in mainland China (if you know differently, please leave a comment).
So the following articles from the Shanghaiist come as no surprise, but shed some light on where at least some of the trash on Hong Kong’s beaches comes from:
That last one in particular explains a lot. Shenzhen Bay afterall is right next to Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta can flush trash straight into and past HK’s western edge (west Lantau) and out into the South China Sea. And the incoming tide can bring this trash as well as trash from other coastal soureces back in and onto our shores. More than that, the prevailing currents in Hong Kong change: from the northeast or the southwest depending on the season, so the notion of rubbish from Qingdao 1600 km away or Hainan 650 km away reaching Hong Kong is entirely reasonable and quite probable.
We can not blame mainlanders for HK beach trash (even if mainlander bashing has apparently become a sport in HK), but it is clear that the ocean and the trash do not respect the HK-SAR border and to tackle the problem of beach trash on Hong Kong’s beaches and in the sea around us, we also need to work with the mainland and maybe use our experience in Hong Kong and our expertise to help them. Afterall HK has dealt with this problem for longer and “the pot should not call the kettle black”. And as the article “Foreign man is dubbed a ‘hero’ for picking up trash on Qingdao beach” shows, mainlanders are also fed up with the rubbish, but they seem to not realise that individual actions or inaction are part of the problem. So if you are expat in China, please be a “foreign hero” and teach by setting a good example (and don’t blame Chinese people for the trash – I have overheard that conversation several times and its pretty hypocritical – and racist).
“If you would lift me up you must be on higher ground.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
No doubt millions of people in China and around the world have enjoyed mid-autumn festival by being outdoors , lighting lanterns and enjoying the sight of a bright full moon.
But sadly many people leave the beaches and country parks littered with plastic: drinks bottles, glow sticks, food containers, lanterns and other junk. Much of this no doubt ends up in the water – if not in the same night or the following day, then carried off by birds or lost from rubbish trucks and bags. Here is a few pictures of the aftermath in Discovery Bay. Fortunately the beach in DB is privately owned by Hong Kong Resorts and therefore cleaned regularly. Other beaches are not and rely on volunteers to combat the tide of plastic rubbish.